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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-014    Date:  April 2018
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-014
Date: April 2018


State of the Practice for Traveler Information During Nonrecurring Events

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The Federal Highway Administration has recognized the need to take a comprehensive look at the information requirements and decisionmaking processes of travelers across a range of nonrecurring events. Properly constructed and presented traveler information about nonrecurring events provided at key decision points can be a powerful tool for operators and managers to better inform travelers of those events. The purpose of this project was to identify, review, and synthesize literature and best practices on efforts to understand travelers’ information needs and related decisionmaking processes during nonrecurring events.

The intended target audience for this report includes transportation professionals involved in the management, planning, engineering, research design, and operations of traffic and traveler information systems. The information presented in this report has the potential to help transportation professionals and researchers provide optimal traveler information on roadway networks to allow users to make better route choices, thereby decreasing travel time and congestion.

Monique R. Evans, P.E., CPM
Director, Office of Safety
Research and Development


This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information contained in this document.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Quality Assurance Statement

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides high-quality information to serve Government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes public understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of its information. FHWA periodically reviews quality issues and adjusts its programs and processes to ensure continuous quality improvement.


Technical Report Documentation Page

1. Report No.


2. Government Accession No.


3 Recipient's Catalog No.


4. Title and Subtitle

State of the Practice for Traveler Information During Nonrecurring Events

5. Report Date

April 2018

6. Performing Organization Code


7. Author(s)

Emanuel Robinson, Elisha Lubar, Jeremiah Singer, Dan Kellman, Bryan Katz, and Scott Kuznicki

8. Performing Organization Report No.


9. Performing Organization Name and Address

Leidos, Inc.
11951 Freedom Drive
Reston, VA 20190

1600 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850

7140 Heritage Village Plaza
Gainesville, VA 20155


10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS)


11. Contract or Grant No.


12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20590


13. Type of Report and Period Covered

Final Report; October 2015–May 2016

14. Sponsoring Agency Code


15. Supplementary Notes

The Contracting Officer’s Representative was Barry Zimmer (HOP-1), and the Government Task Manager was Michelle Arnold (HRDS-30).

16. Abstract

The Federal Highway Administration has recognized the need to take a comprehensive look at the information requirements and decisionmaking processes of travelers across a range of nonrecurring events. The goal of this study was to review and synthesize information about travelers’ information needs and current practices for information dissemination related to nonrecurring events. Researchers identified, reviewed, and synthesized academic literature, practitioner reports, and best practices for information provision related to nonrecurring events. This report discusses user needs, best practices, data collection and information dissemination technologies, and knowledge gaps. Case studies and information dissemination strategies are also provided.

17. Key Words

Nonrecurring event, Decisionmaking, Traveler information, Road weather information, Special events

18. Distribution Statement

No restrictions. This document is available to the public through the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA 22161.

19. Security Classification
(of this report)


20. Security Classification
(of this page)


21. No. of Pages


22. Price


Form DOT F 1700.7 Reproduction of completed page authorized

SI* (Modern Metric) Conversion Factors

Table of Contents








Appendix A. Taxonomy of Messages and Uses

Appendix B. Mobile Apps from State Transportation Departments and Regional Sources



List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Abbreviations


advanced traveler information system


citizen band


closed-circuit television


changeable message sign


dynamic message sign


environmental sensing system


Federal Highway Administration


Global Positioning System


highway advisory radio


Institute for Transportation Engineers


intelligent transportation system


Minnesota Department of Transportation


Program for Arterial Signal Synchronization and trAvel GuidancE


problem, location, and action


Regional Integrated Transportation Information System


roadside detection


road weather information system


traffic management center


Transportation Research Board


Virginia Department of Transportation


variable message sign


Wisconsin Department of Transportation


Washington State Department of Transportation


The Federal Highway Administration has recognized the need to take a comprehensive look at the information requirements and decisionmaking processes of travelers across a range of nonrecurring events, which include unplanned or planned events that impact traffic conditions. Unplanned events may include traffic incidents, severe weather, and emergencies, while planned events may include road work, sporting events, concerts, marathons, county fairs, parades, political rallies, planned protests, and holiday celebrations. Whether planned or unplanned, because these events are nonrecurring, travelers may not expect them, and they may cause disruptions to travel as well as impair broader network flow. The provision of information about these events can help drivers make informed decisions that minimize the impact of these events. In order to provide effective information, it is important to understand travelers’ information needs and preferences.

Information dissemination modes include both pre-trip and en-route messages. Pre-trip information may include TV, radio, text or email alerts, websites (including 511), and mobile mapping applications (referred to as “apps” throughout this report) with traffic information. En-route information may include many of the previously listed media as well as changeable message signs (CMSs), highway advisory radio, and in-vehicle devices linked to the connected vehicle ecosystem. Thanks to rapid expansion of wireless communication technologies, travelers have access to more information in more places than ever; however, it is important to understand exactly what information travelers need, when they need it, and how they want to receive it.

The purpose of this study was to identify and review literature and synthesize the best practices on efforts to understand traveler information needs and related decisionmaking processes within the context of nonrecurring events. This report provides a comprehensive, up-to-date review that is easily accessible for use with present-day challenges while also being forward-looking for upcoming trends and advances as the landscape of nonrecurring events information evolves.

Traveler behavior involves individual decisionmaking, such as what trips to make, where to visit, when to depart, what mode of travel to utilize, and what route to follow.(1) Decisionmaking is defined as the thought process for selecting a logical choice from the available options by weighing the positives and negatives of each option and considering all the alternatives.(2) It is not always an error-free process and can be affected by various factors, including, but not limited to, fatigue, lack of information, perceived or real-time pressure, and stress.(3) In addition, when in an unknown situation that may elicit stress, decisionmakers (e.g., drivers or travelers faced with information about a nonrecurring event) may do the following:

In addition, not all decisionmakers operate or approach, perceive, and navigate problems the same way. Individual differences, such as age, familiarity with the area, culture/language, and personality can have an impact on the effectiveness of pre-trip and en-route messages.

According to Torma-Krajewski and Powers, an effective decisionmaker is confident and competent, is knowledgeable of the situation, seeks advice, takes advantage of opportunities, remains flexible and open to new options, is calculated and selective, takes a comprehensive approach, has the initiative to make a decision, and has a good understanding of his or her own abilities.(4) More specifically, driver-related decisions should be timely, minimize damage, and accomplish a specific objective or mission while keeping everyone safe. To reduce the difficulties experienced by drivers in decisionmaking environments, all forms of uncertainty must be minimized, and all information necessary to make a good decision should be provided at the time that the decision needs to be made.

Certain precautions must be taken when developing strategies for assisting the decisionmaking process, especially in situations of nonrecurring events where there may be limited or rapidly changing information (e.g., evacuations and emergency situations). For example, an overload of information can contribute to poor decisionmaking, cause drivers to forget already processed information, induce mental fatigue, or delay the actual decision.(4) This report reviews literature regarding information needs for nonrecurring events, as noted in surveys and focus groups of the traveling public (both nationally and internationally).

Both public and private sector entities have roles in the process of disseminating information to the public. For example, many State transportation departments or other Government entities send alerts via text message or email, post messages on CMSs, and provide traveler information via automated telephone services and websites. Common information available on traveler information websites includes maps showing color-coded traffic conditions, incident locations, CMS messages, travel times, traffic cameras, and weather conditions. Many agencies have also expanded their outreach to social media platforms such as Twitter™ and Facebook®. In addition, comprehensive collection of real-time traffic information from sources such as private vendors and State transportation departments can help agencies detect and respond to unplanned events, such as collisions.

In the private sector, mapping apps can provide travelers with pre-trip and en-route directions and traffic information. While much of the focus on traveler information is on drivers, the utility of traveler information can be enhanced by providing multimodal information, such as bus and train schedules, online and at transit stations. Partnerships between various public and private entities (e.g., mapping companies, news media, and the Government) can also help to expand the quality and availability of information.

In the past decade, the quality and availability of traveler information have expanded dramatically.(5) In the future, this trend is likely to continue. One major new development in traveler information is connected vehicle technology, which allows vehicles to wirelessly communicate with one another and with highway infrastructure. This new technology provides vehicles with traveler information to a much greater degree than in the past. While this technology has great potential to improve the information available to drivers, it also brings challenges, such as developing interfaces that are safe to use while driving.

The section entitled Message Types and Examples in chapter 3 as well as table 3 in appendix A provide a taxonomy of message types that can be used for traveler information about nonrecurring events. The appendix indicates event type, messages that can delivered at various times (before an event, at the time of an event, after an event has begun, etc.), the delivery method, and example messages. Events addressed include incidents, work zone, and weather-related events. Appendix A can be used as a tool to plan messaging strategies for a wide range of potential nonrecurring events.

There are a variety of methods to assess the public’s use, perception, and effect of traveler information systems. Traditional methods have included call statistics, website hits, and satisfaction surveys. Based on prior experiences and findings, a toolbox method could be used to evaluate traveler information systems (specifically nonrecurring events messaging).(6) This approach combines a variety of focused, targeted, and low-cost methods (e.g., focus groups, traveler logs or diaries, and targeted surveys) that evaluate different aspects of a traveler information program in a particular area. It is also desirable to use a combination of methods due to the large variety of dissemination methods, traveler characteristics, and information types. Findings from these methods can then be combined to generate a profile of overall system effectiveness, especially with respect to its effect on trip behavior as a result of nonrecurring events.

The intended audience for this report includes transportation agencies interested in implementing or managing a traveler information system that includes information for nonrecurring events as well as researchers investigating traveler needs and behaviors related to nonrecurring event information.



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